How we got to school on time, 2: Push back

by Wolf Pascoe on February 14, 2011

I always thought the record would stand until it was broken.

— Yogi Berra


At Fern Hill, Nick’s teacher, Charity, had watched his tardiness get worse and worse. Nora and I had spoken to her about it. Nick liked school. As far as any of us could tell, he wasn’t having a problem with any of his schoolmates.

I am Really Happy When… by Sravya K.

“You look frazzled,” Charity said to me one morning, as I deposited Nick in the schoolyard an hour and a half late.

“This isn’t working for Nora and me,” I said.


Fern Hill is not a place of rigid, imposed rules. Most structures and plans are negotiated between students and staff. There are no grades, no assignments, no schedules, no tests, no homework, no prescribed curricula. Students are free learn and do what they want when they want. They spend almost all their time in elaborate projects and games of their own devising.

There is one anchor point. Every day school begins with morning meeting, where kids are grouped by age. They air problems, makes plans, and share whatever is on their minds. Except for morning meeting, Nick wasn’t missing anything in particular by being late.

Still, Charity was concerned.

“Why don’t you take a breather,” she said. “Just give Nick the freedom to do what he wants and see what happens.”

“You mean, just let him be late? No push back?”

“Whatever he wants. Let’s try it.”

“We may never get to school,” I said.

“I’m fine with that for a few days,” she said. “If it doesn’t work, maybe all of us should have a meeting.”

It was a relief. Charity had taken the pressure off.

“What’s the record for being late?” Nora said.

“You’d be surprised,” said Charity.

The next day, Nora and I told Nick we wouldn’t be bothering him that morning, and to let us know when he was ready to go to school. Then we went about our business around the house.

Nick was all for it.

“Can I watch TV?” he said.

“No, you can’t.” Nora said. “It’s still a school day.”

Nick played with Lego, unperturbed. That morning we got to school at 11:30 am, a record for us. We tried the same thing the next day and arrived at 1:00 o’clock. My prediction that we might not get to school at all looked within reach.

That night Nora and I commiserated with each other. It seemed like we were running out of options. When he was little, if Nick was being recalcitrant, we could physically put him where we wanted when it was necessary. But Nick was a large, strong seven-year-old now. He couldn’t be forced into a car against his will, not that we would have tried.

Punishment was out—we neither punish nor reward in our house. Bribes and threats are also off the table.

We address problems at home by a process of open communication that we’d learned at Fern Hill. The approach involves respectful listening, consideration of limits, and negotiating differences. But that didn’t seem applicable here. We had told Nick that his being late was a problem for us, and he went right on being late, rejecting our proposed solutions, and offering none of his own.

What was left?

The next day was a little better. We arrived at Fern Hill at noon. But Nora and I were done. Our daily plans were in ruin. We were generally able to adjust our work schedules so that one of us could remain home with Nick during the day, but it was no way to live.

“We need a meeting,” I said to Charity. “We need it yesterday.”

“After school,” she said.

“What are we going to say to Nick?” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said. “It depends on what Nick says to us.”

. . .


This is Part 2 in a series of  six posts.
Read: Part 1Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.
The series continues next time with: Limits . . .



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. . .


Childrens’ art credit: I am Really Happy When… Crayon and marker. Sravya K.,
Age 7. California, USA. ©2011 The Natural Child Project. Used by permission. The Natural Child Project provides resources on unschooling and empathetic parenting.


Express yourself! Any thoughts? Ever had a problem being late? I’d love you to add your comment below. I always respond here.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

BigLittleWolf February 14, 2011 at 10:51 am

I don’t know how you’re managing this. I applaud the negotiation and reasoning approach. And my little household in many ways has been the “Bohemian” environment in which relatively few rules reigned, compared to all the other (more traditional) parents.

Nonetheless. . . Limits, limits, limits – and parental veto power – with consequences. Just sayin. But very interested to hear how this turns out. (Especially given that my 17-year old is still frequently late, and forgetful.


Wolf Pascoe February 14, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Raising kids to foster their autonomy and self-reliance is not for sissies. But as someone once said, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Stay tuned. It all works out. Sort of.

Jan Hunt, are you listenin?


kathryn kates February 14, 2011 at 1:03 pm

oi vey. I suppose this has some sort of resolution but, wow –

I’m thinking the best advice comes from my old friend, elizabeth – “your kids are so fantastic – what’s the secret?”. She smiled and said, “I beat them regularly with a broom”, she paused ” and the secret is….regularly”.


Wolf Pascoe February 14, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Wait a minute. I smell a rat! Aren’t you the one who, when I told the french toast story, said it’s supposed to be all about him, not me? 🙂


Sandy Corner February 14, 2011 at 10:48 pm

I can’t wait to read what happens next!


Wolf Pascoe February 14, 2011 at 11:07 pm

The action resumes on Thursday!


Jennie McKenzie February 16, 2011 at 9:17 am

“Just give Nick the freedom to do what he wants and see what happens.”

“No, you can’t [watch TV]” Nora said. “It’s still a school day.”

Um… I don’t think you really heard the teacher’s good advice?

Sounds to me like he really wants to home school.


Wolf Pascoe February 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm


In the context of our conversation with Charity, it was clear to us that she meant giving Nick the freedom to stay home without our hassling him about when he was going to get to school. I’m sorry for the confusion in my writing. I checked with her after seeing your comment, and she confirmed that she hadn’t endorsed our eliminating all other limits.

But now I’m curious. How do you handle screen limits in your house?


Jennie McKenzie February 16, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Take a look at this:

“What if little kids watch TV all day? What can happen?”

TV is just a medium, like books. Would you limit books?

Sounds like the teacher was saying “Just give Nick the freedom to do what he wants, as long as it isn’t something you don’t want him to want”?

And why would you want your son to equate “school day” with “no fun”?



Barbara February 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm

I’m curious to see what happened. I like the theory of this, but I also think it’s important for kids to realize the world works in its own way, and that their actions affect others’ (like yours and your wife’s, the teacher’s and the class’s…) and that sometimes you just have to go by a schedule. Will he learn this on his own? As I said, I’m curious to see…


Wolf Pascoe February 17, 2011 at 11:27 pm


I agree. Ultimately, the lesson in this story is about how a person’s (in this case a kid’s) actions affect others.


Jan Hunt February 18, 2011 at 10:41 am

Life’s responsibilities come soon enough. Childhood should be a time of joy and freedom, not a grim preparation for a dull adulthood. And by learning how to enjoy life, maybe adulthood won’t be so dull after all!

Jan Hunt, M.Sc., Director
Natural Child Project

“Children reflect the treatment they receive.”


Jan Hunt February 18, 2011 at 10:53 am

And on another note, maybe it’s the school, not your son, that should adjust. Schools that have tried later starting times have all been amazed at the result. Both staff and students were happier, grades improved, and absenteeism decreased, even if it meant the school day was shorter.

Best wishes,


Jan Hunt, M.Sc., Director
Natural Child Project

“Children reflect the treatment they receive.”


Wolf Pascoe February 18, 2011 at 5:50 pm

I agree. The whole world gets up too early, especially me. But it wouldn’t do anything for grades in Nick’s school because there are no grades.


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